Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseUnder the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau departed from Kiel, Germany on 22 Jan 1941 to raid Allied shipping. The two surface warships were supported by supply ships and tankers Uckermark, Ermland, Schlettstadt, Friedrich Breme, and Hamburg. They were detected by the British in the Great Belt strait between the islands of Zealand and Funen in Denmark; in response, Admiral Sir John Tovey was dispatched with a fleet of 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 11 destroyers to intercept. While Tovey hypothesized that the German force would enter the Atlantic Ocean south of Iceland, Lütjens decided on the route north of Iceland instead, thus the British fleet failed to make contact with the German fleet.
ww2dbaseAllied convoy HX-106, consisted of 41 ships, was en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to Liverpool, England, United Kingdom when it was detected by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 8 Feb. Captain Otto Ciliax of Scharnhorst offered to use his battleship's superior speed to draw off British battleship HMS Ramillies escorting the convoy, allowing Gneisenau to overpower the transports. Lütjens, however, opted to abide by Adolf Hitler's orders to avoid engaging Allied capital ships, and broke off the attack. The convoy failed to make the correct identification on the two German battlecruisers, thus Tovey was not alerted of the actual location of his assigned prey.
ww2dbaseThe German battlecruisers then set to hunt down Allied convoy HX-111, during which attempt they came across another convoy on 22 Feb en route to the United States after already having emptied their cargo in Britain. This attack lasted over 12 hours, during which 5 ships were sunk. The attack was reported by the convoy.
ww2dbaseNext, the Germans sailed south to the Azores off western Africa. They sighted a convoy, but due to the presence of battleship HMS Malaya, Lütjens decided not to pursue; instead, he shadowed the convoy and directed submarines in the area to attack.
ww2dbaseMoving into the western Atlantic, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank a freighter, followed by two separate attacks on two convoys that resulted in 16 Allied ships sunk or captured.
ww2dbaseOperation Berlin ended on 22 Mar 1941 as the fleet made port call at Brest, France. The ships had traveled 17,800 miles during this operation, sinking or capturing 22 enemy ships totaling 113,690 tons.
Operation Berlin Interactive Map
Operation Berlin Timeline
|22 Jan 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau departed from Kiel, Germany for Operation Berlin.|
|23 Jan 1941||German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were spotted in the Great Belt between mainland Denmark and the island of Zealand by a British agent who alerted the Admiralty in London, England, United Kingdom.|
|25 Jan 1941||British Admiral Sir John Tovey departed Scapa Flow, Scotland, United Kingdom with a fleet to intercept German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau believed to be in the Iceland-Faroes passage.|
|28 Jan 1941||British cruiser HMS Naiad spotted German warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the Iceland-Faroes passage at 0649 hours. Fearing this might lead to the arrival of a stronger British fleet, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau turned to the north, attempting to enter the Atlantic Ocean via the Denmark Strait instead.|
|4 Feb 1941||German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau broke out into the Atlantic Ocean via the Denmark Strait undetected by the British Royal Navy.|
|8 Feb 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau detected Allied convoy HX-106, but did not attack due to the presence of British battleship HMS Ramillies.|
|9 Feb 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau detected Allied convoy HX-106 off Newfoundland at 0830 hours. Because it was escorted by British battleship Ramilies, the German fleet withdrew at 1000 hours per orders not to engage British capital ships.|
|22 Feb 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau attacked a convoy of unescorted empty cargo ships en route to the United States, sinking three British cargo ships and two tankers, totaling 25,431 tons. 10 were killed and 180 were taken prisoner.|
|7 Mar 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sighted an Allied convoy near Azores, but did not attack due to the presence of British battleship HMS Malaya.|
|8 Mar 1941||Off Western Africa, German submarines U-105, U-106, and U-124 received sighting reports of Allied convoy SL-67 from surface ships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. They searched for the escorting battleship HMS Malaya in failure; instead, U-105 sank British ship Harmodius at 0341 hours and U-124 sank four ships between 0547 and 0608 hours. U-105 received damage from depth charges as she was counterattacked. A total of 62 British sailors were killed; 300 survivors were picked up.|
|15 Mar 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau attacked an Allied convoy 950 miles east of Nova Scotia, Canada, sinking 3 tankers (killing 7, most of the survivors were captured) and capturing 3 tankers.|
|16 Mar 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau attacked an Allied convoy 950 miles east of Nova Scotia, Canada between 0428 and 1550 hours, sinking or capturing 10 ships. Danish ship Chilean Reefer sent distress signals and returned fire with her deck gun, and was sunk by Gneisenau's 11-inch shells, killing 9. British battleship HMS Rodney received the distress signals, but arrived only after the German ships had already departed the area.|
|19 Mar 1941||Scharnhorst and Gneisenau began their return voyage to Brest, France.|
|20 Mar 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were detected by aircraft of the British Coastal Command; they were met by German aircraft at 1900 hours, escorting them as they headed for Brest, France. Meanwhile, two ships that they had captured 5 days prior, tankers Bianca and San Casimiro, were spotted by British aircraft from carrier HMS Ark Royal; battleship HMS Renown would advance in an attempt to recapture. The German crew scuttled both tankers before surrendering themselves along with the 46 prisoners of war aboard the two ships.|
|21 Mar 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were detected by aircraft of the British Coastal Command. They were met by friendly aircraft at 1900 hours, escorting them as they headed for Brest, France.|
|22 Mar 1941||German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were met by friendly destroyers at 0300 hours as they approached Brest, France. They docked shortly after 0700 hours, ending Operation Berlin.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945